Sneak Peek #3: A Bullet for Death’s Rifle by Emily Duncan, illustrated by Sonia Liao

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Death is a girl named Caterina Kazakova. She harvests souls with her sniper rifle and watches as war tears through her country, as it always has and always will. When Caterina falls in love with a soldier in the warlord’s army, she knows what they have will be a short and bitter thing. A girl who is Death cannot love; a boy who is a soldier in this war is fated to die.

She collected the tethers like strings tied to her fingers, some black, some red, some in colors that Caterina had no name for. There were many, the aftermath of this battle was grim. A shot. A tether tied to her index finger. Another shot. A string tied to her wrist. She did not discriminate, she tied strings from both sides around and around until her own gloves had disappeared underneath the weight of the souls and their stories.

But it was dangerous to listen. It was dangerous to bend an ear and allow the soul their final words. If one spoke, the rest would hear and demand their turn. Too many tethers, too many strings, too many souls to ever hear their woes and their unfulfilled dreams. Better to set them free.

– Except from A Bullet for Death’s Rifle from @glitzandshadows , art by@sonialiao

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Tolthe vs Eliana P.4 : Good and Dead

Eliana and Tolthe 4“Ready.”

“Oh, after, that really changes every-” She was cut off by his hands cupping her face, the soft press of lips against hers in such a sweet moment it almost made her heart break for the older Elf. She put down the knife and rested one hand on his cheek, the other tightening gently against his waist. It felt like a good bye, a thank you, and hope rolled into one, causing her to close her eyes and just press herself closer to him.

She pulled herself away with a shaky breath. Centering herself, she picked the knife up again, pressing the edge to his cheek, watching quietly as it broke skin and the dark red blood ran down his face like a tear.

The tiny pop of his skin breaking under the point of the cool knife startled Tolthe in the slightest. He didn’t make a sound, only felt the bead of blood glob down his face at his slight movement. All his skin was burning. Anxiety marched like ants under every inch of his skin. There was no turning back. The monumentality of it threatened to relieve him of his consciousness but he was determined to be alert for the last moments of his life.

The knife was spelled, charmed to spread the necessary enchantments and restraints through the target’s body without the tedious task of manually casting every spell and drawing every damn sigil. She pressed the knife against his other cheek, cutting two smooth x’s across his cheeks. It would begin to hurt now, the feeling of something crawling under your skin and bleeding through your body like poison.

Tolthe moaned through his once again clenched jaw. He tried to bite through the pain, but was met with chipping teeth. His body went rigid wickedly fast. Whatever he was expecting, this wasn’t it.

Eliana grabbed Tolthe’s shoulder, both to keep her balance and to be able to push him back down if he moved. She cut a thin, shallow line across his throat, pressing her fingers and murmuring to herself. It was crucial that she did everything correctly, that every cut was precise and purposeful. She would hate herself for it all to go to waste because she was distracted. I’m sorry.

She pressed her fingers harshly against his pulse, cutting his lips quickly.

Blood filled his mouth like a flood and gargled through the slice at his neck. The blood loss was making the room spin and giving him a migraine. If it lasted much longer he’d puke and pass out.

If she were a more heartless person, she might think of her clothes and hands. The stains of rusty red blood that would be left there for days. The necessity to pour bottles of bleach through a small tub and scrub her clothes until she couldn’t feel the dry mess underneath her fingertips anymore. She continued her task, cutting the necessary lines, trying not to pay mind to the gurgles and wet pops of blood.

Blood splattered into his freshly plaited hair like he were a wounded white rabbit. Pitiful and sad yet still remaining grotesquely beautiful enough to make any good person sick at the sight.

Tolthe was far past restraining himself, or worrying about appearances. He was being gutted, his blood flowed through him like it were filled with shrapnel and ripping his veins apart, only to fill them with a burning chemical poison so burn the rest of the flesh away.

He looked up, searching for Eliana through the rust colored lenses his blood was filtering for him. Just for a smack of humanity, familiarity, something to keep him from going mad. But if she were a necromancer, simply performing another job, perhaps he didn’t want to see her face, and have business Eliana be the last one he saw.

He finally surrendered to his body and let out a desperately guttural groan of pure torment, fighting to keep hold of his sanity.

“Be quick, please.” He hissed, before his body throbbed in an allover piercing pain. He begged for it to be over quickly, begged her to go faster. He shouldn’t have been so proud, he should have welcomed unconsciousness and threw away the last moments, because these minutes certainly weren’t worth it.

“Eliana…”

The smell of blood was thick, hanging heavily between them. Was it sad, she wondered, that she no longer gagged at the sight and smell because she had become so used to it? Or was it just inevitable? His blood stuck to his pale blonde hair, like paint the color of strawberries splattered across the snow.

“I’m sorry. I must be careful with this.” She smoothed a hand over his hair, tacky with the blood that stained her hand and sleeve. She cupped his cheek, bringing him to look into her face. Like a lifeline or some odd comfort. “Vera sterk.” Be strong. A voice in the back of her mind, that hard voice that she leaned back on when the blood wouldn’t wash off and the images of cold, cut up bodies wouldn’t leave her at night, spoke softly. Do not pause. Do not hesitate. Your hand shakes and this will be all for naught. Be strong. Be strong. Be strong.

She pushed the knife into his gut without flinching, keeping her eyes on his.

“Be strong.”

If Eliana hadn’t used Tolthe’s native tongue to speak, he wouldn’t have settled over if she were asking him to hold on for a few moments longer, or if she were giving herself strength to finish him off.

The corners of his mouth jerked upward in a twitchy, amused grin, allowing his blood to cascade  out the sides and down the tense muscles of his neck and pool in his matting hair.

Unngh” He gasped when she removed her knife out from under all the torn muscles of his stomach. His breath was erratic and shallow. It couldn’t be much longer, could it? How much more would he have to endure? He found her eyes in the haze of his failing vision. She must have felt worse than he looked.

“It’s okay. Eliana. I asked for this.” He breathed.

If this had happened only a year or two before, she would have cried at the smile that stretched across his face. That stuttering motion followed by a wet gasp and pop. The blood spilled freely, nothing she hadn’t seen and felt before, but every experience was always different. Always personal. Always burned into her mind in a way that was deeper and crustier than dry blood stains or the stale smell of death.

She rolled the words around in her tongue, the pronunciation foreign on her tongue. The shape felt strange to her, the stilted words that she melted together and shaped into something soothing rather than awkward. Soft and sweet, spoken more like a ‘See you again’ rather than a death sentence.

“þitt stríð er lokið. Fara hratt í ljós, með the guðir leiðarljósi leið.”

Blood splayed from Tolthe’s lungs like beer being forced through his nose after a bad, but terribly funny joke.

“My Lady, while that was very kind of you, I don’t think I’m going anywhere.” He gasped through a fit of all encompassing laughter. He needed air, wheezing as he choked on his own blood, forgetting the pain for just a second.

“You’re much sweeter than you pretend to be.” He lost the last bit to lost air and failing organs, but he hoped Eliana heard it just the same. She was covered in his blood and for once it wasn’t himself he was pitying.

Eliana blinked, flinching backwards at the unexpected spray of blood, covering her in red raindrops. It was…strange. Weird. Insane. No one had ever laughed before, twisting the usually warm and opening sound into something red and black and red. She supposed she might have seen this coming. The elf prince was one to defy expectations, and she would have laughed herself if he admitted to being religious.

“Yes, but that’s a secret you take to the grave.” Without hesitating, she plunged the knife into his heart, her breath turning sharp as she let the spell slip between her lips. A call forth towards the dead, pulling and shoving and demanding before Tolthe could lose his heartbeat. She felt a cold air wash through her, familiar and terrifying all the same. His body slumped forward as she pulled the knife out, running her finger over the blade and drawing a sigil across his forehead.

“Go in peace, Tolthe Baltsersson von Staaten. You were one hell of company.”

“TOLTHE!” A throaty cry pierced the silence. An elf, not much younger than Tolthe was, stood in the door frame with horror plastered over his blood drained face. The only color remained over a fading burn cupping his sharp jaw, from ear to chin.

Vander.

“WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?”
-Written Collaboratively by Aubrey ‘Meeks’ Brown and Cara….. All characters belong solely to the author who wrote them ie:Cara owns Eliana and the world to which she belongs to, and Aubrey owns Tolthe and the world to which he belongs to. All items are copy-written accordingly.

Illustration by Aegisdea

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